Monday, November 12, 2012

On the Horizon: To Do This You Must Know How

This installment of Music Monday focuses on To Do This, You Must Know How which focuses on the black gospel quartet tradition. This book is the third collaboration from Lynn Abbott and Doug Seroff (Out of Sight, Ragged But Right) and will be available from UPM in February.

To Do This, You Must Know How traces black vocal music instruction and inspiration from the halls of Fisk University to the mining camps of Birmingham and Bessemer, Alabama, and on to Chicago and New Orleans. In the 1870s, the Original Fisk University Jubilee Singers successfully combined Negro spirituals with formal choral music disciplines and established a permanent bond between spiritual singing and music education. Early in the twentieth century there were countless initiatives in support of black vocal music training conducted on both national and local levels. The surge in black religious quartet singing that occurred in the 1920s owed much to this vocal music education movement.

In Bessemer, Alabama, the effect of school music instruction was magnified by the emergence of community-based quartet trainers who translated the spirit and substance of the music education movement for the inhabitants of workingclass neighborhoods. These trainers adapted standard musical precepts, traditional folk practices, and popular music conventions to create something new and vital.


Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1901
Bessemer's musical values directly influenced the early development of gospel quartet singing in Chicago and New Orleans through the authority of emigrant trainers whose efforts bear witness to the effectiveness of "trickle down" black music education. A cappella gospel quartets remained prominent well into the 1950s, but by the end of the century the close harmony aesthetic had fallen out of practice, and the community-based trainers who were its champions had virtually disappeared, foreshadowing the end of this remarkable musical tradition.

Featured prominently in the book, here are the Fisk Jubilee Singers performing "Done What You Tole Me To Do."

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